Choice way to choose course options

National Business Review, 25 Jul 2008, p 12

by Mark Peart

A Dunedin software company has developed an internet-based program that helps tertiary students plan their preferred course of undergraduate study.

The company, 1000minds, completed the project as part of a two-year collaboration with another Dunedin software company, The Street.

The principals of 1000minds, Paul Hansen, of Dunedin, and Franz Ombler, of Wellington, were last week named as finalists in the ICT category of the Bayer Innovators Awards in association with NBR.

The software is for prospective and current University of Otago students to match their personal preferences with subjects they might be interested in majoring in for bachelors degrees.

Dr Hansen, an associate professor in economics, said choosing majors subjects could be confusing for many students, as well for their parents and careers advisers.

The program targeted first-year students, including health science students who did not gain acceptance into their preferred courses, and second-year students, who found their initial course selections were inappropriate.

Users were asked to identify skills and interests likely to matter most to them when thinking about what to study. They were then asked a series of questions involving tradeoffs to determine their relative importance, a process that took 10-20 minutes, Dr Hansen said.

The software, called Otago Choice, then revealed 105 major subjects in a tiered pyramid, directing users' attention to the top of the pyramid, corresponding to the subjects the software "thinks" will most appeal to the user.

Detailed information about each subject is available, including links to the department concerned. The complete list of 105 subjects can be emailed to the user for future reference.

Otago Choice uses a decision-making algorithm invented by Dr Hansen and Mr Ombler when they were researching methods for prioritizing patients for surgery. It is patented and has won several national and international awards for innovation.